Dr. Bernat Soria is a distinguished scientist and former Minister of Health and Consumer Affairs of Spain, widely recognized for his contributions to the fields of physiology, regenerative medicine, and stem cell research. He has held numerous academic and research positions throughout his career, including Professor of Physiology at several universities in Spain, Director of the Andalusian Center for Molecular Biology and Regenerative Medicine in Seville, and Professor of Regenerative Medicine at the University Pablo de Olavide in Seville. Dr. Soria has also edited four books and authored over 160 scientific papers. His work has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including the Prize and Gold Medal of the Royal Academy of Medicine, the Medal of Andalucia, and the High Cross of the Carlos III Order from the King of Spain.
Dr. Bernat Soria Escoms was born in the small Spanish town of Alcoi, located in the province of Alicante. Growing up, he showed a keen interest in science, particularly biology, and medicine. His passion for these fields led him to pursue higher education at the University of Valencia, where he obtained his MD and Ph.D.
After completing his doctoral studies, Dr. Soria did his postdoctoral research at prestigious institutions such as the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry and the University of East Anglia. He worked as a Senior Research Associate in the School of Biological Sciences. His work in these institutions allowed him to develop his skills and gain expertise in stem cell research, diabetes, biophysics of pancreatic islets, and their pathophysiology.
Along the way, Dr. Soria held several leadership positions in scientific organizations, including the presidency of the Spanish Diabetes Society, the Spanish Biophysical Society, and the Spanish Society of Physiological Sciences. Additionally, he served as the President of the European Stem Cell Network and the European Association of Biophysical Societies, further showcasing his dedication to advancing scientific research.
Dr. Soria is a visionary researcher in the field of stem cells; one of his most notable achievements has been the development of a technique to differentiate stem cells into insulin-producing cells. This innovative method has shown great promise in treating type 1 diabetes by cultivating pancreatic islets and leading to a breakthrough in the differentiation of embryonic stem cells into functional beta cells responsible for producing insulin. Dr. Soria’s success in this area has inspired many other researchers to explore this promising avenue.
However, Dr. Soria recognized the challenges that researchers in the field of medical science face. When asked about the limitations, he emphasized the need for a change in regulation and financial budget. He stated, “Changing the law is not enough; you need to fund projects, too; otherwise, you never get results.” He further noted that these limitations are not unique to stem cell research but also affect other areas, such as orphan drugs.
Apart from his research, Dr. Soria also served as the Health Minister of Spain from 2007 to 2009, where he made significant contributions to the field of public health. During his tenure, he implemented several policies to improve the Spanish healthcare system, including universal healthcare coverage, promoting healthy lifestyles, and improving patient care and access to medicines. His efforts in the field of public health have earned him respect and admiration from people around the world.
In addition to his policy-making, Dr. Soria established the Carlos III Health Institute, a government agency dedicated to promoting research and development in biomedicine. The institute has since become one of Spain’s most important institutions for biomedical research, focusing on infectious diseases, cancer, and neuroscience. Dr. Soria’s vision for the institute was to facilitate new therapies for those pathologies for which there is no solution yet. He says, “Among my first provisions as a Minister, I created a general direction for advanced therapies.”
Moreover, Dr. Soria played a crucial role in developing the Spanish Strategy for Regenerative Medicine and Cell Therapy, which aimed to establish a regulatory framework for developing and using new cell-based therapies in Spain. The strategy provided a roadmap for developing innovative treatments for diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders. Dr. Soria emphasized the importance of training alongside regulation, saying, “When you want to develop an area, you also need to improve training along with regulation. When we started researching stem cells, we noticed few researchers knew about them. There were good cell biologists, molecular biologists, and developmental biologists, but they needed training.”
Dr. Soria’s dedication to stem cell research was fueled by scientific curiosity and a deep desire to help patients. He recounted a conversation with a patient suffering from ALS who asked him about the potential of stem cells to treat the disease. He says, “My response was honest but grim: ‘First of all, nobody can grant that there will be a treatment, not even in the future; we could only reply that we were not allowed to research. First of all, you need to research to see whether you can find a solution like that.’ But the patient persisted, asking me how long it would take to know if stem cells were the right pathway. I couldn’t give an exact timeframe, but I asked for five years, the typical length of a scientific project. Sadly, the patient replied that he didn’t have much time.”
As a result of this conversation, he created a rapid authorization track for clinical trials in Spain. He explains that this is the only way to proceed, as no miraculous treatments are available for ALS. He believes the only way to progress is to move forward cautiously and responsibly without cutting corners. While he wishes he could provide a better answer, he believes that this approach is the most effective way to make progress in the field.
Dr. Soria’s contributions to the field of medicine have been recognized through numerous awards and honors. He has received the Prize and Gold Medal of the Royal National Academy of Medicine, the Alberto Sols Prize for Research in Health Sciences, the Galien International Prize, and the Andalusian Medal. His accomplishments also include being granted the Grand Cross of the Order of Carlos III by His Majesty King Juan Carlos I.
Currently, Dr. Soria is a researcher at the Institute of Bioengineering and the Health Research Institute of the Alicante University Hospital. He is also the Chair of the Andalusian Foundation for Research and Development. In 2015, Dr. Soria was appointed Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of the United Kingdom, becoming the first Spaniard to receive this recognition.
As a firm believer in the power of collaboration to overcome global health challenges, Dr. Soria says, “I believe that by collaborating with other countries and organizations, we can achieve greater progress in the field of medicine. Whether through sharing knowledge or conducting joint research, we can work together to find new solutions for the world’s most pressing health challenges.”